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RURAL LIFE AND THE FAMILY. 

KENYON L. BUTTERFIELD. 

This paper does not pretend to be a scientific statement 
of all of the reactions which environing conditions may 
bring to bear upon the family living in the open country. 
So far as I am aware, this whole matter has not been 
worked out by anyone with any degree of fulness. I 
wish that some of our sociologists would take up seri- 
ously the study of the effect of typical rural life, not only 
upon the rural family, but upon the rural individual, and 
determine the relationships between the rural environment 
and the rural mind. I am here merely setting down some 
observations which are the result of considerable associa- 
tion with the rural people in different parts of the country, 
and of some attempts to study the structure and influence 
of various rural social institutions. 

Isolation is the chief social characteristic of rural life. 
But, so far as isolation is a physical fact, rather than a 
state of mind, the word must be used in a wholly relative 
sense. Isolation of country life varies all the way from 
the occasional hamlets and villages of the closely popu- 
lated irrigation districts to the genuine loneliness of the 
almost boundless stock ranges, with all graduations be- 
tween. It is, however, the one great fact that stands out 
in any comparison between the social environment of a 
family living on the land and a family living in the town 
or city. 

This isolation is a separateness of the farming class 
from other classes. Consequently, a family belonging 
to this separated class must be influenced by the charac- 

233 



234 American Economic Association 

teristics and the standards common to the class as a 
whole. It is also an isolation of families. A very small 
proportion of our American farm families live in hamlets 
or villages. The families of the farm are scattered ; few 
farm houses are closely adjacent, at least from the point 
of view of the city man. 

Of course, it is to be observed that physical contact in 
the city means nothing, from the family point of view. 
Contiguity does not necessarily breed acquaintanceship. 
Probably the mere fact of farm houses being twenty rods 
apart, or half a mile apart, is not so significant as the fact 
that separateness of the farming class and scattered farm 
homes produce a lack of social friction between individ- 
uals, between families, and between classes, that has a 
significant bearing on all those concerned. 

What, now, are the chief influences of this isolated 
mode of living upon the life and characteristics of the 
family, considered as a unit ? I list them as follows : 

i. Family life of the country is tied to the industry of 
the country. This unquestionably makes for interest in 
the work of the farm. Of course it may also result in 
hatred of farm work. It makes drudgery easy. It makes 
it difficult to get away from one's work. But this much is 
true, nevertheless, that the farm family may be consid- 
ered an industrial, as well as a social, unit, whether the 
influences of this condition are good or bad, or both. It 
probably has both good and bad effects ; but, on the social 
side, it certainly has a significant result which may be- 
come our second point. 

2. There is a cooperative unity in the farm family that 
is rather striking. The whole family is engaged in work 
that is of common interest. The whole family often 
"turns to" when a task is to be carried out. When the 
holiday comes, the whole family takes part in it. Com- 



Rural Life and the Family 235 

pared with the average city family, individual interests 
are subordinated. Each member of the family knows 
what is going on. Each is in touch with the head of the 
family, in general if not in detail. The mother's work is 
ever before the eyes of all the members of the family, 
including the boys and men. This cooperative unity must 
have a powerful effect upon the life of the family. Per- 
haps it has a tendency to give that life too much of an 
industrial character. There may be too much inclination 
to "talk shop". There may be too little opportunity for 
the cultivation of the heart life, or the hearth life, of the 
family ; but there is a certain solidarity in the farm family 
that makes for the permanency of the institution. 

3. Speaking particularly now of the youth growing 
up in the farm family, it can hardly be gainsaid that 
family life in the open country is remarkably educative. 
First, by reason of the fact that both the boys and girls, 
from even tender years, learn to participate in real tasks. 
They do not merely play at doing things — they do them. 
They achieve real results. They take part in the world's 
work. Secondly, by association with older heads in 
this work, by having a share in these real problems, by 
understanding at an early age the good or evil results 
that come from definite lines of action, there comes a 
certain maturity of mind, a certain sureness of touch, 
when a job is to be done, that must be a powerful means 
of development, — particularly in an age when the achieve- 
ment of tasks is the keynote of success. 

4. I believe that, on the whole, the moral standards of 
the farm family, as a family, are kept on a very high 
plane, — partly by the fact of farm interests already al- 
luded to, and partly by the openness of life prevalent in 
country districts. There are in the country few hiding 
places for vice, and vice usually has enough modesty not 



236 American Economic Association 

to wish to stalk abroad. I do not mean to say that the 
moral influences of the country are only good ; but I do 
say that, so far as the purity of the family as an institu- 
tion is concerned, the country mode of living is conducive 
to a very high standard. 

Thus far I have named those reactions of the environ- 
ments upon the rural family which seem to be, on the 
whole, favorable. There is something to say on the 
other side. 

1. Probably, on the whole, mediocre standards are en- 
couraged. If you are brought up in the Ghetto of New 
York, and manage to get money enough together, you can 
move up on Fifth Avenue, if you want to. The average 
farmer doesn't move, unless he moves to town, or to a 
new region. If low standards prevail in the community, 
a particular family is likely to find itself influenced by 
these lower standards. There is a tendency to level 
down, because of the law of moral gravitation, and be- 
cause it takes a long time to elevate any community stand- 
ard. The average country communities are illustrating 
some of the disadvantages, as well as some of the ad- 
vantages, of democracy. In some farm communities the 
presence of hired laborers in the family circle has been 
distinctly deleterious to good social customs, if nothing 
else. In the country there is a tendency toward a general 
neighborhood life on the social side. There is a proba- 
bility that aspiration, for either personal or community 
ideals, will get a set away from the farm, with the result 
that these ideals are likely to lapse in the country. 

2. A great deal of farm life is of such a character that 
it makes it very hard for the mother of the family. Per- 
haps the effects of isolation are more abiding in her case 
than in that of any other member of the family. This is 
not to give currency to the popular, but I think erroneous, 



Rural Life and the Family 237 

notion that there is a larger proportion of insanity among 
farm women than among other classes; but it cannot be 
denied that the type of work in the farm home in many 
communities, and the few social opportunities, are likely 
to give a narrowness that must have its result on the 
general life of the family. 

3. The health of the average individual of the country 
is all that could be desired, at least during the earlier 
years ; but it is not unfair to say that the sanitary condi- 
tions, from the public point of view, are not good in the 
average open country. This must have considerable effect 
in the long run upon the health of the family, and must 
have a bearing upon the development of family life. 

4. There is on the whole a serious lack of recreative 
life in the open country, and this fact unquestionably has 
a strong influence upon the atmosphere of the average 
farm home. It tends to give a certain hardness and bare- 
ness that are not proper soil for the finer fruits of life. 

5. The lack of steady income of the farmer's family 
is a factor that has a great deal to do with the attitude of 
the members of the family toward life, toward expendi- 
tures, toward culture wants, and toward those classes of 
people that have salaries or other steady income. 

It should be noted that country life develops certain 
traits in the individual, which, without any special regard 
to the question of family life, must nevertheless influence 
the general spirit of the family. I refer particularly to 
the intense individualism of the country, and the lack of 
the cooperative spirit. There is neighborliness in the 
country ; there is intense democracy ; there is a high sense 
of individual responsibility; there is initiative; but this 
overdevelopment of the individual results in anaemic 
social life, which in turn reacts powerfully upon the gen- 
eral life of the family. 



238 American Economic Association 

To my mind, the advantages of the country in respect 
to family life far outweigh its disadvantages. This state- 
ment must of course be understood to have in mind the 
great mass of farm families, as compared with the great 
mass of urban families of somewhat similar industrial 
and social standards. I make no defense of many woe- 
begone rural communities that can be found in all sections 
of the country. But I do believe that on the whole the 
family life of the open country, whether judged with 
respect to its intrinsic worth, its effect on the growing 
children, its permanency as a social institution, or its 
usefulness as a factor in our national civilization, is 
worthy of high praise.